Hell at sea - Lost fishermen survived on their own urine

BY COREY ROBINSON Sunday Observer staff reporter robinsonc@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, March 18, 2012

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WHEN it came to their survival, the choice between drinking their own urine and death was a 'no-brainer' for Joel Smith and Anthony McFarlane — two of three St Elizabeth fishermen who went missing on January 21 and spent almost a month drifting at sea before being rescued in Mexican waters.

In fact, both men, who yesterday returned to Jamaica after being rescued and detained by Mexican authorities, were convinced that it was this decision to drink their urine that was the key to their surviving the 28-day hell on high waters.

Sadly, however, another member of their ill-fated crew — their captain Wayne Dias, 38 — was not prepared to make that decision, they said. He died at sea.

A frail-looking Smith, who was met by his elated father, mother, and sister, who journeyed to the Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston to welcome him home, told of the torturous experience.

"We were out there (at sea) and I remembered what my friends from Old Harbour Bay who got lost just like us did," he said. "They told me that they had to just made up their minds to drink their urine every day, and to not waste (defecate), and that was what we did," continued Smith.

He said Dias declined to follow suit "as his body was set up different from ours".

"Sometimes my belly hurt me, and he [Dias] said it was because I was not wasting, but I told him that I didn't business. I was not going to do it, because I don't eat anything, nothing was inside me to pass out," he explained.

"Maybe if him did just listen, I feel that the three of us would have come back home," added Smith, reflecting on the final days of his friend's life.

Drifting for weeks, marked by a insanity-inducing haze of dehydration, hunger, despair, and fear, the three ate what they could catch, a few fish and the occasional sea bird. They lost track of time. Then one morning Smith and McFarlane woke up to find their captain dead.

They tried to retain Dias' body for a 'proper' funeral, said Andrew. But when the corpse began to deteriorate they had no choice but to throw it overboard — a "traumatic" decision, which depleted the last dregs of optimism they had that they might be rescued.

"When he was smelling and stuff we had to get rid of him, because we did not want to get sick or anything," said McFarlane. His distress at the decision was apparent in his lowered gaze as he seemingly remembered his captain's body disappearing beneath the surface of the endless depths.

"After that we don't know anything more. We just started fretting on how we are going to make it; everything just started to get to us. We were losing our minds. We couldn't move, we were weak," he said, noting that their pleas for help to passing ship crews were not heard.

"To understand you would have had to see us. We looked like some African people that they show you on TV," he said, pointing to his wasted arms and legs to make his point.

"If [only] we had the (news)paper to show you how we looked when we were rescued; we were just pure heads," said McFarlane, noting that he managed to improve his appearance by working out while being detained in Mexican immigration.

"We learned how to survive when time gets hard," said McFarlane of the paramount lesson of their horrific month at sea.

The three went missing while fishing off Rocky Point in Clarendon, drifting further and further to deep waters, until finally being rescued by Mexican authorities on February 18.

Yesterday, crowds of airport workers gathered in the airport terminal building to see the survivors as they were swarmed by their families, who repeatedly hugged and kissed them.

Roy Smith, Joel's father, was overjoyed.

"Me glad to see him, you know, really glad to see him, because I was not eating, and I will be glad tonight because I will finally be able to eat," he said, smiling from ear to ear.

"A three sons me have, but he is the biggest one and every day I have to talk about him. I am really glad to see him," he repeated, adding that he and his son's mother, Sandra, will be cooking a healthy Sunday dinner to celebrate.

Junior McFarlane, Anthony's father, who is also a fisherman, said that he too, had been unable to eat since his son's disappearance, and that he had become disoriented on the job because of his stress over his son's absence.

"Well I feel much better because I was praying. I always gave God all the thanks and praises to keep him safe. So when the Mexican authorities call me about the identification and so on, I was really happy. It is very good to
see that my son is alive and well," he
said McFarlane,

But the joy of these families was in stark contrast to the pained reactions of Dias' brother, Gladston Dias, his aunt, Marva Parchment, and Sherene Phillips, the mother of his three children. They too, had journeyed to the airport to see the survivors, who were with the boat captain in his last days on earth. They had questions and wanted to get first-hand information about how Dias died from those who lived to tell the tale.

"It is a feeling still which you will never forget. I just came to hear what really happened to him because I have been hearing too many false news about what happened, that's it," said Gladston, describing his late brother as a "rough-ian" and a people-person.

Dias left behind three children, ages 19, 17, and 15.

  

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